One of the most rewarding aspects of my profession is finding inspiration from people who’ve overcome unimaginable obstacles to achieve their goals. I’d like to think this alone has allowed me to prosper in my own life, in more ways than one. It’s easy to assume and think you know someone’s story by what you see or hear on the internet, but more often than not you end up being wrong.
I’ve become familiar with the black and white imagery, the gritty visuals and raw emotions of what Born x Raised stands for. The authentic voice it carries and the way the brand has solidified its presence as a movement, rather than just a clothing label. What I wasn’t familiar with was the force behind it. I didn’t really know why it was so hyped and why so many in our industry co-signed what Spanto and 2tone built in such a short time span.
While I was anticipating a simple interview, my time with Spanto and 2tone developed into a lengthy conversation that became an exchange of thoughts and opinions more than anything else. Get to know a little bit about Born x Raised below.
Born x Raised’s Spanto and 2tone
HOW THEY MET
2tone: He (Spanto) had the Gentrification is Genocide sticker and someone was like, “Yo, you gotta talk to Spanto!” I had a bunch of different people telling me, “You gotta meet Spanto!” and I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then I saw the sticker and was like, “Dude, that fuckin’ sticker is hard.” I was at a tradeshow and you know, street wear is like a huge yard sale of bullshit. There’s hundreds and hundreds of fuckin’ brands. Everyone’s got a stupid message. Everyone’s doing something really played out (I’m sorry, this is true) and then this one sticker - that’s the one thing were I was like, “Whoa, someone actually tried to say something.” I was really impressed. That was the point where I was like, okay.
So I sat down with him [Spanto] and I definitely didn’t set out to get involved in a clothing company...
Spanto: He didn’t wanna get involved.
2tone: I didn’t wanna get involved. I’ve been through it. I know how it works, so I kept saying to myself that I wasn’t going to get involved with the company, but I wanted to help, so I did this video, and the video, for me, was fucking amazing. It was a really good video for both of us. I would call him and be like, “Yo, you should do this, yada yada yada,” and then one day I just realized, I’m, organically, a part of this company.
Luis: So Born x Raised existed before you came on board...
Spanto: I’d been toying with the idea for a minute, I hadn’t pushed it too far. I was still trying to get it off the ground… designs and shit.
WHAT SPAWNED THE IDEA
Spanto: Frustration. Anger. All of that. I think we got it first, in Venice. All of LA is going through it now, but we got it first because of where we are, geographically.
Spanto: Yeah. The newcomers. The pilgrims. It was frustrating. I was fighting against it with whatever ways I knew how and I was just getting tired because I wasn’t getting anywhere. I wasn’t going to beat it single-handedly. You can’t beat money, so it was a frustration thing.
We’d always say, “You weren’t born and raised here.” You didn’t experience what we experienced or go through what we had to go through growing up. But its evolved into a positive thing now. It’s just pushing our culture, what we know, what we grew up doing.
Luis: Well, it’s become a movement... is that ultimately what you wanted to create?
Spanto: Yea, absolutely [laughs]. For me, yea.
Luis: You’ve succeeded...
Spanto: Yeah, I’m a happy guy.
2tone: People identify with us across the country so far. I think around the world they’re still trying to understand it, but across the country you can see people pumped up, saying, “I was born and raised here!” Be proud of where you’re from.
Spanto: I feel like our culture - the way we grew up, especially here in Los Angeles when gentrification started happening - I feel like everybody got swept under the rug. Our culture was just ignored. This never happened. Riots never happened. Gang banging never happened. Graffiti never happened. I want to push for what I think is right.
ON THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE BRAND
Spanto: For me it’s all about the message, it’s always been about the message because I’m dealing with it everyday, with my family and where we live. That means more to me than internet buzz or anything else. It’s all about the message. It’s not about T-shirts, books, blogs or anything like that.
2tone: The problem is that the others are necessary for us to live. A genuine nod from the right place goes a long way. It depends where it’s coming from. When people really connect with us and get the references of what we’re talking about, that’s more important.
The Town I Live In, directed by 2tone
2tone: My end goal for directing is shooting a film. Maybe something that has a lot to do with our story, maybe not. With directing, I love the act of directing. I like being on set. I like shooting. I like the actual parts of it, where you actually get to do the job, but everything else is bullshit. Everything leading up to it, everything after it. All the people you deal with.
You know, I’m doing music videos, everyone is doing music videos. It’s not a big deal, you know? I love the actual part of being on set and making something happen. I love it. I feel like nothing leaves me less distracted. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done in my life where I’m not thinking about something else. But it’s hard to get to that.
PEOPLE’S RESPONSE TO BORN X RAISED
Spanto: I’m not going to say who, but getting pulled over by that car of gang members that’s being pushed out of their neighborhoods. Them pulling up alongside me and stopping me in traffic on a Sunday meant more to me than anything that’s happened so far. My godson’s grandmother has been in the same apartment building since the ’50s and she got evicted. Everyone gets pushed out. I know it’s inevitable, it happens everywhere, but I don’t have to be okay with it. I’m not okay with it.
2tone: It’s interesting hearing from other people’s perspective what’s going on, because I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just in the middle of it. I don’t know what the hell is happening.
Finding out people look at our brand and are scared of it, I’m like, “Really, what the fuck?” I’m shocked. We’re not trying to bully people. I see people at other brands trying to bully people. We talk about it and ask ourselves, “what the hell is that going to do?” We have no interest in that. I fucking hate bullies.
Spanto’s Gentrification is Genocide graphic
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING MULTI-FACETED
2tone: I don’t think its important. Sometimes I’m like, “Fuck, is one thing getting diluted?” My directing might take a hit because of Born x Raised and Born x Raised might take a hit because I’m on a directing job, but I do it because these are things I love to do. I also like to draw, I spend a large portion of my time drawing. There’s no reason for me to draw, whatsoever, I just like doing it. I’m not trying to be Bo Jackson. I just like to do a bunch of different shit.
Me directing helps Born x Raised a lot. When him (Spanto) and I started doing this, he told me his whole thing and after we talked about it, I was like “we gotta shoot video!” So we shot that video and it was probably one of the best things I’ve done. It was a crazy emotional experience for him. Doing that video was just the perfect storm. His access and my slant on how to direct it. It was the first thing we did together and then from there we just kept going. I feel like my directing is an asset to this company because we could never afford to buy the content I can provide.
Spanto: Nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room when it comes to social media. In the world we live in, everything is pushed 95% virally. There’s very little human interaction. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been sick, so I haven’t really been out. I’m off chemo now, so I can show my face and I still do see the power of human interaction. Just me being out, me being with people, me showing my face and vice versa. I think that makes a huge difference.
2tone: The funny part is you take a picture of that human interaction and it turns digital.
ON FIGHTING CANCER
Luis: Being sick, has that pushed you to go at it harder?
Spanto: Yea. With me personally, yea, but with what I’m capable of doing, no.
2tone: I think he’s just done whatever the fuck he can. The dude has been so sick. He’s been horribly bedridden. This guy is very tough so I know when he’s bedridden, it’s fucked. We’ve had some black periods.
Spanto: We’ve had some real black periods. But doing Born x Raised... this shit’s what’s kept me alive. I think most people don’t have something that’s their silver lining, but this is everything to me. This is my baby. I created this. Seeing the response from people while I’m sick makes me so happy and getting this stuff done while I’m sick makes me want to push more and more.
2tone: We were talking about it the other day, just kind of going over everything. I was like, “The fuck, you got cancer.” I remember the exact day he hit me and was like, “Yo, I’m in the hospital and they gave me a pamphlet about cancer.” I almost went down there and yelled at them. Why the fuck would you give this dude a cancer pamphlet? It’s been tough [sighs].
Spanto: It’s been fucked up. You know, he [2tone] has to pick up my slack when I’m down. When I’m down to 150 lbs and I haven’t eaten for 2 weeks. He’s been a blessing, man. A godsend.
2tone: I think it’s very strange. You know how hard it is to get all the elements aligned and make this thing happen? Its very hard to do. I feel like the thousands of people who try this every year fall apart or they get out there and never even pass the stumbling blocks. You can tell there’s this energy. Then all of a sudden, bam! [claps hands], cancer. If it was me with cancer, I don’t think I would have pushed like [Spanto] did. I don’t think I could have fought it like that, honestly.
A shot from Born x Raised’s Spring 2014 lookbook
Spanto: You know what’s a trip? My parents, they’ve been feeding me organic food as long as I can remember. They never gave me soda. I’ve been eating healthy my whole life. It’s not like I have one kind of cancer. I have leukemia. I have lymphoma. I have a tumor in my chest. I have all kinds of shit wrong with me.
2tone: They don’t tell you when you get lung cancer, ”Oh you smoked.” All these cancers, they don’t even tell you why. You got cancer. It’s crazy, man. It makes me angry. It makes me really angry seeing this shit. It’s like, “Okay, you have cancer, now you have to take this poison.” It’s a really crude way of dealing with it. It’s fucked up man.
And it’s all because of business. That’s what it all is. It’s all because of commerce, between people trying to make more money, pump more shit in all the food. Not giving a fuck. Everyone is so blindly rushing to get rich and not caring about the end result of all the things they’re doing to make the money.
We went to Memphis for a ceremony that his family put together for [Spanto], because he’s sick. We were at a supermarket and the health food section is like 4 feet long and it’s like Snack Wells and shit. If you look at all the grocery stores out there, its just all multi-colored bright boxes of Doritos and Pepsi. Coke and cookies. Nothing that’s not jammed with preservatives and chemicals. That’s middle America. On the coast, we have Whole Foods and all these health food places and you still have to move around those places properly. You have to pick the right fruit. It’s fucked up. The country is cannibalizing its own people.
That’s the same shit that’s happening in these neighborhoods. People get this gold rush shit, “Ooh, I can fucking flip 20-30 houses.” There’s no end. When does it fucking end? How much is enough? I work with people that make millions of dollars. 30, 60, 100... where do you cap off? You need more? What more do you need? People just get hooked on that shit. I don’t understand it because I’m not a millionaire. Maybe if I was I’d be that type of asshole, but I don’t think so.
Luis: Maybe you don’t ever want to get to that point anyways, to find out...
2tone: Naw, I mean, I’d like to make money [everyone laughs]. I’d never want to be at the helm of a $100 million company because you basically belong to your company. You’re putting out fires all day and waiting for your heart attack. I don’t want to take over the world, by any means.
2tone: You’re pretty much getting this shit live as it happens from us. We’re just kind of winging it, really. We do have plans and there is structure, but I think right now is a period where it’s really fun and there’s a lot of room for it to be enjoyable. I think after a certain point, the fun will get sucked out of it. It could be a long time from now, but there’s a point when you start really getting huge and you turn around and are like, “Holy shit, what the fuck happened?” You know what I mean? I’m enjoying it now. I think we can do whatever the fuck we want, really. We’re not answering to anybody.
Spanto: It’s our live diary.
2tone: We’re not funded by anybody. We had another partner give us some money to start it (Born x Raised) and we’ve been flipping it and flipping it and flipping it. We’re making the money as we go. We have one employee. We generate enough money to pay him and pay for our cell phones [laughs]
Spanto: We do everything in-house. We shoot everything. We design everything. The girls that we shoot are just girls that we know. We don’t have a budget for anything. We’re just documenting our lives, that’s all it is.
It’s organic, that’s the most important thing.